(19 June, 2009 – Xian, China)
Today was overcast and a little rainy, but I still managed to do a few things. We met Bridget again to go together to the Shaanxi history museum (Shaanxi is the province I’m in, not to be confused with Shanxi, a province further north). The most interesting pieces for me were the statues of gods and the “tomb guards”, which were pretty terrifying looking, and very imaginative. I understand why the “tomb guards” may look like this (to scare people away), but I am intrigued by the gods. I had the same feeling with the statues at the Lama Temple: why are these beings stepping on animals and people? Why the necklace of skulls and the many heads on their spears? When I think of Buddhism, I think of something calm and joyful, so I was not sure what these statues meant.
Then we head off to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Climbing to the top of it gave me a great view of the city, but I mainly enjoyed the surrounding area (full of Buddhist buildings and gardens). There were some monks chanting and playing bells and drums in one of the buildings; it was fun to watch them.
I have already learnt some new characters, and I find the construction of some of them very interesting. For instance, the character for “quiet/peace” is basically the character for “woman”, with a line over it (“woman in a house”). I suppose this says something about the ancient Chinese view on women. Similarly, the character for “good” consists of the characters for “woman” and “child” next to each other. I also picked up the characters for “heaven”, “big”, “entrance”, “exit”, “west” , “country” and “tea” (I have been drinking a lot of it and will probably continue to do so). I intend to take the six week Chinese course being offered here, it will be both fun and practical. My goal is to learn enough to be able to haggle successfully at the marketplace.
After my first three days here I’ve realized that my dream of getting to know Beijing as well I knew Budapest is impossible: the city is so much larger, the language is so much more difficult, and I am here only 2 months. However I will do what I can. Occasionally my time in Budapest comes to mind: completely butchering the language during the first few weeks, not understanding a word of wath my landlords said, and even some random Hungarian phrases have come to mind. This experince will be quite different (also, it is the first country I’ve been in where I completely stand out as a foreigner).
I hope to see as many Buddhist and Taoist temples as possible, and try as much of the local cuisine as I can, and this won’t be too hard to do. The food I’ve tried so far is quite tasty. Today I had what is called “Moo Shoo pork” in the US, (but it is called something completely different in Mandarin). The difference is that you can choose what filling to put into the crepe, and there is no plum sauce. I enjoyed the authentic Moo Shoo more than the US version. I have the impression that Chinese food is very greasy, but they use plenty of vegetables. I have also had some very delicious spicy dishes (I think they tend to avoid spice more in US-Chinese restaurants). It is also interesting that in many restaurants the silverware and plates are all wrapped in plastic to make it more hygienic.
The driving situation here reminds me of Quito, though it is probably worse here. Both drivers and pedestrians can be very aggressive, and the rule seems to be to go when you can, and ignore all other rules. Buses are also packed (this also reminded me of how it was in Quito many years ago). And they all love to honk- the streets are so noisy because of it. But they don’t honk out of spite, they honk because they enjoy honking. So far I have the feeling that China is a strange mix of the first and third world – with sophisticated technology and donkey carts side by side. Tomorrow I may see the Terracota Army, and then the main attraction: Hua Shan (mountain).